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  • Writer's pictureNed Patton

Composites in Infrastructure 5 - One More Time

I thought with this final post in my Infrastructure series I would provide some examples of the more aesthetic appeal of using composites in infrastructure projects – primarily for the ability of the architects to get creative and make very appealing looking structures. Along with their light weight, life expectancy, and maintenance free qualities, they also make curved shapes that are light, strong, stiff, and very pleasing to the eye.

The pic above is one example of this, where composites enabled the architects of this building façade and walkway to get very creative and make a very pleasing looking structure. The Sidra Hospital in Qatar which is shown in this pic is just one example. Carbon fiber composites enabled the architects of this structure to make an open, airy, nicely curved roof over the walkway to the hospital. Those rectangular roof panels are up to 49 feet by 82 feet,

and are one piece non-load bearing structure. The engineer and architects used carbon fiber / epoxy as a material not only because they could make some very attractive structures using this material, it also has high energy absorption. That region of the world is rather earthquake prone, much like California where I live and work.

Just below that pic to the right are two pictures of the new airport terminal in Orlando, where that large ring was made in one piece and attached to the composite struts to make a very distinctive and unmistakable airport entry. Even the roof panels to the right of that arch are made of composites and supported on composite beams. It gives the entire structure a very open, airy, and welcoming feel.

Another example of aesthetic appeal is the roof of the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv which is shown to the left here. That white roof is made of what the authors of the article call FRP – fiber reinforced plastic – composites. That beautiful double curved shape would have been nearly impossible with steel or aluminum or pretty much any metallic product. And it would not have had the life expectancy of a metal roof either.

To the right here I added another example of an aesthetically appealing bridge that would not have been possible with traditional materials. This is a foot bridge that is made in one piece. This is the real power of composites for something like a bridge. You can make a curved box beam structure like in the pic below where the fibers that are in the

horizontal parts of the beam go predominantly in the long direction of the bridge, and the fibers in the webs between the top and bottom of the bridge can be at +- 45 degrees to the long axis of the bridge because the webs are in shear (sorry – I’m a Mechanical Engineer with a specialty in Structural Mechanics – my brain just thinks this way).

Finally, to the right, I included a pic

of an attractive architectural element used as the façade of the Museum of the Future in Dubai. This is actually a carbon fiber reinforced frame with a stainless steel cladding. What you see in this pic is the façade under construction with the carbon fiber reinforced ring and fiber glass strut structure upon which is clad a fairly thin stainless steel skin. The skin is completely supported by the composite framing beneath it, and the structure is able to hold itself up because of the stiffness, strength, and light weight of the composite frame.

Finally, to the left in this paragraph and to the right in the next paragraph are two pictures that I thought I would introduce in this week’s final Infrastructure post. The left pic is a 3D printed composite structure that was made as a test of how well 3D printed chopped fiber thermoplastic composites would work for making structures of this size and weight. 3D printing, as you can see, has come a long way. In fact, an upcoming post is going to be about 3D printed composites and how they are starting to replace more traditional materials – and quickly. 3D printed parts are easier to make now with the large format 3D printers. And these newer large printers are capable of very high deposition rates, so the parts get made much more quickly in much larger sizes than was possible just a few years ago.

The last pic in this post - to the right - is an image showing the application of fiberglass to the structures that hold up the electrical cables for electrified rail systems. Fiberglass is an excellent material for this because it is stiff, strong, light weight, and does not conduct electricity. So, the insulators that hold up the electrical wires can be smaller and lighter as well. This makes for a safer and more electrically efficient system because the composites will keep the electrical charge in the wires and not let it leak to ground or down a metal pole and kill someone.


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